Sortition advocate arrested for allegedly planning to blow himself up on election day

On October 10th, various news outlets have reported that the FBI has arrested Paul Rosenfeld in NY, USA for allegedly planning to blow himself up with the goal of drawing public attention to the idea of sortition. The New York Daily News writes:

Rockland County man arrested for building 200-pound bomb, plotting to detonate it in DC on election day

A Rockland County man who cops say built a 200-pound bomb he was planning to explode in Washington, D.C., in an Election Day suicide attack was arrested Wednesday.

Paul Rosenfeld, 56, of Tappan, was busted on federal charges of manufacturing an explosive device.

“As alleged, Paul M. Rosenfeld concocted a twisted plan to draw attention to his political ideology by killing himself on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. — risking harm to many others in the process,” U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman said.

“Rosenfeld’s alleged plan for an Election Day detonation cut against our democratic principles.”

NBC News write:

New York man wanted to blow himself up on the National Mall on Election Day

Paul Rosenfeld was arrested on charges that he built a bomb and planned to kill himself with it to draw attention to beliefs in ancient election system.

The FBI has arrested an upstate New York man accused of building a bomb that he intended to use to blow himself up on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. on Election Day, authorities said Wednesday.

Court documents say Paul Rosenfeld, 56, of Tappan, wanted to draw attention to his belief in “sortition,” the ancient practice of randomly selecting legislators out of a pool of eligible voters.

The press release by the U.S. Department of Justice is here.

In 2015 Paul Rosenfeld has published an essay on Equality by Lot titled “The Extinction of Politics“. The article has been linked to by some of the reports of the arrest.

13 Responses

  1. Oh, for fuck’s sake :-(

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Do we think he did this on purpose, in order to get caught? Just to get people talking about sortition? Idiot.


  3. He did say, “we have to be creative” in order to “destroy the myth of one person one vote.” I guess that’s his idea of creativity. Sad.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Thankfully someone alerted the FBI and he was caught beforehand and no one was hurt.

    It sounds like in addition to desperation some real mental illness is at play. I mean, even if he was only planning to kill himself, who in their right mind would think the best way to win over the American public to your cause would be through a suicide bombing?

    Sad indeed.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. His article was posted here on March 21 at and had drawn 135 comments before this news broke. Both article and comments print out at about 59 pages.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. PS: His article drew only one “Like,” but several thoughtful and unenthusiastic responses (from what I’ve read so far). Here are extracts from comments 1, 3 & 4:

    John Burnheim: >The strategy for getting sortition used more is incremental. Use it more and more for making less important decisions, then for more important ones, until the public develops confidence in it.

    Keith Sutherland: Absolutely. So let’s end all this prattling about abolishing “electoralism”. It won’t happen and, if Jon Roland and Raphael Sealey are right, it will only end in bloodshed.

    Yoram Gat: Paul, Thanks – a very interesting article. I am not sure that I understand your argument, however. What about majority rule within an allotted chamber? Is that also not considered as leading to the “common good”? If not, how would common good be arrived at?
    In my opinion what we are arguing against is mass voting, not majority rule.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Oops; I wrote, in the comment above, “Here are extracts from comments 1, 3 & 4.” I should have said “2,3, & 4.” And I should have attributed the first quote to “Constitutionalism” (the handle of “Jon”), not to John Burnheim. (I discovered this blog only 12 days ago, so I’m unfamiliar with the names behind the handles.)

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Fortunately — despite the fears of Sealey, Roland and Sutherland — it didn’t end in bloodshed, but only because Rosenfeld’s anonymous correspondent alerted the FBI. We can only speculate as to his mental state and whether he was encouraged by anything he read on EbL, but I’m glad that he dismissed our blog as a (mere) “talking shop”. These events reinforce my view that the proper role of EbL is a) to discuss what sortition can and cannot do and b) draw attention to implementations of sortition across the world. This may be boring, but we should ignore the siren calls for activism and publicity stunts aimed at consciousness raising, especially in the light of the disastrous consequences of Mohamed Bouazizi’s self-immolation in 2010.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. A few points:

    1. It is worth noticing that we know nothing about this story other than what has been asserted by the authorities. These authorities have been, as is their habit, manipulative and tendentious in their description of the events in a transparent and shameful (and ridiculous) attempt to exploit them for self-promotion.

    2. According to the authorities’ own description, Rosenfeld’s intents were entirely honorable and even heroic: he meant to sacrifice himself to promote a better world for his fellow-citizens.

    3. The authorities’ statements about Rosenfeld’s actions or intentions being dangerous to others are, as far as we can learn from their own description of the facts, completely speculative and without factual basis.

    4. The authorities’ professed grave concern for the well-being of citizens is exposed as nothing but hypocrisy by many aspects of government policy which harm the well-being of citizens on a daily basis.


  10. Yoram,

    Your comment illustrates the unbridgeable divide between those of us with the modest aim of using sortition to improve our existing political arrangements and those who wish to blow up (metaphorically speaking) “electoralism” and replace it with a new paradigm.

    >Rosenfeld’s intents were entirely honorable and even heroic: he meant to sacrifice himself to promote a better world for his fellow-citizens.

    The same can be said about Mohamed Bouazizi, but the unintended consequence of his self-immolation was the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people across the Middle East and the displacement of millions more. That’s an awful lot of broken eggs and still no omelette.


  11. For the record, someone just posted, in a sidebar, a link to extensive coverage in “PaperPost” on the Rosenfeld affair, at


  12. […] Five Star movement. Another spike of interest in sortition followed media reports about the arrest of a sortition advocate who allegedly planned to blow himself up in an attempt to draw attention to […]


  13. […] Rosenfeld, a sortition activist who had been jailed for actions related to his activism, has written a book which is a combination of a memoir and a […]


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